25 September 2018

Did you ever have tea at Shrewsbury College?

A story existed, in the happy days when Oxford had Men's colleges and Women's colleges, of a group of women undergraduates gossiping at a hen-party - one girl from each of the then women's colleges. In dashes another girl, with the explosive news "I've just met a man!"

How each young lady replies reveals the alleged preoccupations which ruled in each of their colleges. The Somerville girl asks "What's he reading? Is he a Scholar?". The undergraduate from LMH: "Who's his father? Is he in the House of Lords?". The one from St Hugh's: "What does he play? Is he a Blue?" From St Hilda's - an undreamily practical lot of girls there - "Where is he?" But lastly, because she seems to lack the same sense of urgency as the rest of them, the St Anne's undergraduate drawls: "I've already had him to tea".

[Alumnae of D L Sayers' Shrewsbury College might devise a version including that home of learning.]

Time was when you walked out to a women's college for Tea with a very satisfying frisson within you. Not least because the ratio of women to men was 1:7 (according to rumour, at Cambridge it was 1:9, which is why most heterosexual males applied to Oxford leaving Cambridge almost exclusively occupied by Old Etonian Marxist homosexuals already in the pay of the KGB). From four o'clockish, if you were lucky, that could mean two and a half hours of gentle, tentative verbal interaction and exploration until you did a quick sprint back to your own college, splashed some water, dived into your gown, and hurried down to Hall for Dinner. Happy days.

Not that in Hall you could gossip with your friends about the pleasures of the afternoon. To do so would be a sconceable offence. "Williams, would you present my compliments to the Senior Scholar; and I desire to sconce Mr Smith for talking about a lady". The sconce, a silver quart tankard full of beer, would arrive*; either Mr Smith could drink it all in one draft (draught?), holding the tankard with only one hand, and then, if he kept it down, the man who had sconced him had the cost of the beer put on to his battels; or Smith could just drink some, and then wipe the rim and pass it on for all to do likewise, and the cost went on to his own battels.
Concludes tomorrow.

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*You could appeal to High Table against the Senior Scholar's verdict, but the written appeal had to be in Latin, and dons liked to take their time before replying eadem lingua.

3 comments:

Oliver Nicholson said...

The Senior Fellow in my day had a habit of replying to appeals against sconces with the words "Per fundamentum imbibendum est". He was a pillar of S. Mary Mag's, a Good Egg and a supporter of that remarkable body the Oxford Mission Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Epiphany in Bengal.

Doodler said...

'Hunwicke', you say? You vill be looked up and, if necessary, sent for corrective training.
Doodler MA(Cantab)

Banshee said...

You had trial by ordeal????